Mixe-use developments in the Gungahlin Town Centre – mostly spaces For Lease

On 7 July 2021, the GCC wrote to the Minister for Planning, Mick Gentleman, citing the approval of “The Establishment” development as an example of the poor outcomes that the planning system is deliverying in the Gungahlin Town Centre:
CC: Yerrabi MLAs,
Dear Mick, 
The reconsidered Development Application (DA) for the high-rise residential project known as The Establishment (formerly Air Towers) has been approved (with a long list of conditions). Additional details, documents and history can be found here https://gcc.asn.au/reconsidered-da-for-the-establishment-approved/.
The GCC does not support this development and is very disappointed with this outcome.
The basis for the decisions was that the proposal is roughly the same as the DA approved in 2018 (which was a very poor decision with an associated very poor Notice of Decision), and it was consistent with the current Territory Plan (which is known and acknowledged to be broken).
Draft Variation 364 has utterly failed to make any impact, despite being initiated by the community in 2016. It is obvious that the Planning System Reform is going to be equally ineffective in the relevant timeframe.
This is further evidence that:
– the ACT government needs to acknowledge that the planning system has failed to enable the development of a viable Gungahlin Town Centre, and
– specific and immediate action needs to be taken to adopt a different approach for the Gungahlin Town Centre that will have immediate and positive impact.
We again ask that you provide a specific response to these two issues.
The GCC received a response to this email on 14 September 2021, that clearly indicated the Minister believed everything that could be done had been done, and no further action was required – he has given up on Gungahlin. The text of the letter is included below.
The response:
  • blames the lack of any susbtantial commercial employment in the town centre on the Federal government for not moving a government agency there (beyond the ACT govermnet staff in Winyu House)
  • ignores the obvious requirement to create incentives/obligations to encourage the establishment of employment in the town centres, since this is what happened in the other Canberra town centres
  • suggests “the ACT Government’s thinking” rather than its actions will create a thriving town centre, despite the clear evidence that mixed-use in the town centre in its current form HAS NOT AND IS NOT WORKING

This is an utterly underwhelming response. If you agree, please leave a comment and/or share your views with one or more ofthe Yerrabi Memmbers of the Legislative Assembly (MLA):

Mixed-Use Developments In the Gungahlin Town Centre – Mostly Vacant Leases

Text of Minister’s Response:

Dear Me Elford
Thank you for your email of 7 July 2021 on behalf of the Gungahlin Community Council (GCC) regarding concerns for the viability of the Gungahlin town centre and the outcome of the development application (DA 201732666) relating to ‘the Establishment’.
As you are aware, the independent nature of the planning and land authority (the authority) means that politicians, including Ministers, are unable to interfere in decisions of the authority. 
I have been in strong agreement with you for a long time about the need for more commercial development in Gungahlin Town Centre. I have written to you in the past about the ACT Government’s actions in providing office workers to Gungahlin Town Centre and also our shared disappointment that there is no appetite from the Federal Liberal Government to locate a large Government Department in the Gungahlin Town Centre.
From a planning perspective, the ACT Government has done all that it can to enable commercial development in the Gungahlin Town Centre. The ACT Government also wants to see more commercial activity and it’s clear that continuing to do what we have always done is unlikely to get this outcome. The Property Council of Australia reinforced this in their contribution to the Standing Committee on Planning, Transport and City Services hearings into Draft Variation 364. Planning levers can only go so far, and without the interest from a significant Federal Government Department, it will be difficult to drive commercial activity in the Gungahlin Town Centre.
The changes proposed in Draft Variation 364 attempt to drive commercial activity through demand provided by residents in the Gungahlin Town Centre. The ACT Government’s thinking is that the Gungahlin Town Centre can be a genuine mixed-use area, which has a thriving commercial life throughout the daytime, into the evening, and also on weekends. I appreciate that Gungahlin Community Council does not agree with this approach; however, simply keeping the land reserved for commercial activity has not successfully led to large-scale commercial investment in the Gungahlin Town Centre to date and the ACT Government is actively working to find solutions. The ACT Government is not able to force people to open a business or dictate locations to people wanting to open a business.
The ACT Government needs to find 100,000 homes for Canberrans over the next 25 years as our population continues to grow. Canberrans are also ageing, and living in smaller households, so I am mindful that these homes must be suitable for older people and close to shops, services, community facilities, and public transport. This is not confined to Gungahlin – all town centres are seeing greater residential development as we build a city that is compact and efficient. Building ‘up’ rather than ‘out’ protects our bush landscape including Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve and Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve. I know that Gungahlin residents enjoy having such great access to nature reserves, and I’m proud that we have been able to continue to expand our parks and reserves in Gungahlin.
The ACT Government already has substantial work underway to make thoughtful planning decisions in Gungahlin in addition to the Planning System Review and Reform Project. The Community and Recreational Facilities Analysis, which was commenced due to strong advocacy from the Gungahlin Community Council, will provide valuable information about what community facilities are wanted and needed by the Gungahlin community. The investigation into mixed-use zoning will assist Gungahlin Town Centre to be a place where people will want to not just live and work, but also visit for community, shopping, and recreation. I am aware that you are after immediate action in the Gungahlin Town Centre but I am of the view that a considered approach will deliver the best outcomes for Gungahlin and the broader ACT community.
I look forward to continuing to work with you on making Gungahlin Town Centre a thriving hub of commercial and community activity.
I trust this information is of assistance.
  1. The Covid19 pandemic has shown communities worldwide the problems that occur when systems have parts that grow exponentially. We are all familiar with bending the curve. The ACT government, along with most of the rest of the world, suffers from a dysfunctional economy because we have a system that shows exponential growth – meaning the more we have of something, the more we get until the system collapses. The problem with governments is that they have fallen into the trap of monetising community assets and thinking that investing the money raised will, in turn, create more money for the community. Of course, money does not generate more money – it is what we do with the money that makes more value.

    The Gungahlin Town Centre suffers because the government is fixated on selling land for the highest amount of money it can get. Not for the value created from the use of the land.

    New Land in the ACT is too high a price – the “so-called” market price – not the unimproved value. One solution is to sell new releases at the unimproved value – but so that market price increases flow to the community – not to those who purchased the land. This was the principle used by the Canberra founders. Modern technology provides us with the tools to go back to these principles and to extend them to other community services like water, electricity, education, hospitals, roads etc. We can have a vibrant Town Centre and it can be funded with the value created from the use the community makes of the land.
    We have seen the effect of selling new land for the market price. It leads to unaffordable housing, overpriced office space, and fewer community facilities. In other words the inefficient use of land and community resources.

  2. Well said Mr Cox

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